NT 5.0 Boosts Enterprise Storage Management

NT 5.0 Boosts Enterprise Storage Management

Windows NT 5.0 includes a wealth of storage management features that should ease integration while reducing the cost of ownership of storage resources.

By John Haystead

It`s bloated (at more than 30 million lines of code). It`s late (it was originally due last year). But it`s still the most significant operating system release in years. Microsoft`s next-generation Windows NT 5.0 is designed to aggressively move the operating system into higher-end data-intensive enterprise applications.

Microsoft distributed a beta release of NT 5.0 to software and hardware developers in September. Commercial release is expected in the third quarter.

In conjunction with a handful of third-party software vendors, Microsoft is integrating into Windows NT 5.0 a number of storage management functions that lay the foundation for a variety of add-on storage-management packages being developed by independent software vendors.

Targeting enterprise users, NT 5.0 includes an enhanced NT File System (NTFS) that offers a number of storage enhancements, such as support for file encryption and per-user disk quotas to monitor and limit disk space use. NTFS will also provide native property set storage, compress I/O reads to reduce network traffic and backup times, and eliminate drive-letter restrictions. It will also benefit removable media users by allowing forced dismount of open files.

NT 5.0 also includes 64-bit very large memory (VLM) addressing, which improves overall system performance by allowing applications to keep more data in memory (32GB vs. 4GB for 32-bit addressing).

Another feature implemented in NT 5.0, the I2O architecture, uses a dedicated processor and memory to offload I/O processing from the main CPUs for greater throughput. In addition, NT 5.0 includes support for the Universal Serial Bus (USB), IEEE-1394, and DVD.

Another important NT 5.0 storage capability is Plug-and-Play, which includes a new Hardware Wizard that consolidates many functions, such as adding new hardware, changing device properties, unplugging or ejecting devices, and resolving hardware conflicts. Microsoft is also providing a unified driver model for both Windows NT Server 5.0 and Windows 98. NT 5.0 will continue to support existing Windows NT drivers.

Improvements in scalability are also provided through symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) optimizations, intelligent I/O, and enhanced clustering capabilities.

Storage Management Tools

Perhaps most indicative of Microsoft`s enterprise-level aspirations is the high level of attention to storage management in NT 5.0. To meet the terabyte/hour data rates and complex management requirements demanded by business-critical enterprise applications, NT 5.0 includes a set of robust storage management tools. All of these tools fall under the general term storage resource management (SRM). According to Michael Peterson, president of Strategic Research, a Santa Barbara, CA, consulting firm specializing in networked storage, "SRM is to physical storage resources what network management is to routers and hubs and what systems management is to CPUs."

According to a recent report from Dataquest, a market research firm in San Jose, CA, license revenue for Windows NT networked storage management will grow nearly 50% this year and 40% per year until the year 2000. By 2001, the Windows NT networked storage management market is expected to reach $800 million.

Because of widely distributed servers, databases, networks, and storage resources, Windows NT environments are facing much greater storage management challenges. System administrators, sometimes responsible for managing multi-terabyte RAID arrays, tape libraries, and optical jukeboxes, are demanding increased data availability and protection. In addition, they need to reduce their total cost of ownership and amortize the capital costs of automated solutions by enabling large storage devices to be shared by multiple applications. Common interfaces for managing all types of networked storage resources are required to lower administration costs.

To meet these requirements, "NT 5.0 will link storage resources in a Web-centric architecture that provides administrators with in-the-box support for both online and offline storage control," says Glenn Thompson, Microsoft`s group program manager for Windows NT Server. As a result, NT 5.0 may reduce the cost of owning and managing enterprise storage resources.

A central component of NT 5.0`s storage management features is the Microsoft Management Console. The MMC is an ISV-extensible, common console framework for hosting multiple management applications. Although the MMC itself does not have any management functionality, it provides a common environment for "snap-in" of various management components. Multiple snap-ins can be combined to form custom management tools.

MRSM Eases Storage Integration

NT 5.0 will provide system administrators with a new approach to managing media, drives, and robotic libraries from multiple vendors, including support of media inject and eject, mount and dismount, and online and offline media tracking.

At the center of this approach is Microsoft Removable Storage Manager utility (formerly called Windows NT Media Services), which is a storage device management standard based on a native set of tools for end-users, software developers, and library/drive manufacturers.

Developed by HighGround Systems, MRSM provides a common interface to robotic changers and media libraries, enabling multiple applications to share local libraries and tape or disk drives and to control removable media. With MRSM, system administrators will be able to perform online tasks without shutting down systems or interrupting users (for example, to create, extend, or mirror a volume). It will also allow backup of data to a variety of disk, optical, and tape devices.

An MRSM graphical management tool will be implemented as an MMC snap-in for both NT Workstation and NT Server. "Cost of management is a huge factor for end-users, particularly with distributed networks. MRSM tools will give managers a standard way to manage heterogeneous libraries and drives, which today come with their own proprietary tools," says Tom Rose, vice president of marketing at HighGround.

As part of MRSM, HighGround has developed a Software Developer`s Kit that provides ISVs with a standard way to integrate their storage management applications. Since application developers only need to write to one API, MRSM allows them to integrate their applications more easily with storage resource devices, and applications such as backup/recovery, disaster recovery, hierarchical storage management (HSM), archive, and document management and imaging.

Likewise, an MRSM Device Driver Kit allows different library/drive manufacturers to build products that can be integrated and shared by multiple storage resource management applications.

According to Rose, MRSM will benefit end-users by lowering the cost of ownership of robotic libraries. "While users want the availability of data that automation provides, the cost of these systems is often too high for an individual application," he says. Since MRSM will enable multiple data management applications to share the same drive or library, end-users will be able to amortize the cost of libraries across multiple applications.

Another benefit to end-users, says Rose, is that they will be able to use new technology faster. "Today, administrators often can`t use many new tools or devices until the applications they are using support them, which can sometimes take a year or more." With MRSM, devices are supported through the operating system, so any MRSM-compliant application will be able to take advantage of them immediately.

Rose also points out that although many ISV`s have promoted their own media management standards, other vendors are loathe to support them. "System integrators will now have a much larger universe of libraries and drives to offer their customers. Once all the ISVs and library vendors are using MRSM, they will be able to interoperate seamlessly, making it much easier to develop and sell a total document imaging, backup, or HSM solution," says Rose.

Exabyte was the first hardware vendor to announce support of MRSM, and Rose says the number of qualified devices is now approaching 150. ISVs are expected to release MRSM-compliant software packages within a quarter or so of the operating system release. Storage software vendors such as Eastman Software, Legato Systems, and Seagate Software have already announced they will support MRSM. And HighGround plans to support MRSM in its Web-based Storage Resource Manager and Media Mirror storage management software packages.

Online Storage Management

To enter the enterprise-level server arena, NT must also address mission-critical online storage application requirements. To this end, Veritas Software is working with Microsoft to embed a portion of its Volume Manager disk administrator tool into NT 5.0. Volume Manager inserts a logical layer between the file system and storage media that allows users to create logical blocks of storage similar to a virtual memory manager.

As explained by Werner Zurcher, Veritas` NT platform marketing manager, "The NT partitioning mechanism that exists today is left over from DOS and allows only a few physical partitions on a disk with a very limited number of logical partitions.

Alternatively, software-based partitioning allows you to create as many partitions on a disk as you want (basically down to one per sector), giving you much more flexibility in storage management." Unlike physical-block storage, logical blocks can reside anywhere, be redundant, and allow data to be moved between blocks of storage online.

The current Windows NT environment uses Microsoft`s FT disk driver under the NT Disk Administrator. The base Volume Manager package will provide equivalent functionality to the FT disk driver as well as an upgrade path for add-on packages. The FT disk driver is expected to be provided in 5.0 as a legacy driver to support customers migrating from earlier NT versions, but may not be supported in post-5.0 versions of the operating system.

Veritas` Volume Manager code will reside in the NT 5.0 kernel, with a new GUI implemented via the MMC. The core capability to be bundled into Windows NT is intended to ensure mission-critical data is available online without interruption despite disk failures, disk reconfiguration events, etc. Base functionality includes disk mirroring (limited to two copies of the data, server only), RAID-5 (server only), disk striping, and concatenation.

In the Enterprise Edition version of NT 5.0, Volume Manager will also include a clustering capability and physical SCSI and Fibre Channel address-independent disk identification. Unlike NT 4.0, all disks are self-identifying, allowing disks to be moved from controller to controller.

Based on this embedded technology, Veritas plans to offer additional Volume Manager capabilities as add-on products, including online reconfiguration, support for RAID-0/1, performance analysis, and partition concatenation.

According to Mark Griffiths, Veritas` director of marketing, the company is also developing MRSM interfaces for some of its other storage management packages, such as NetBackup for offline storage management.

And, according to Zurcher, Veritas is working closely with Seagate Software to provide disaster recovery interfaces for NT 5.0, which in the event of a disk failure will redo software partitioning and quickly recover data.

Backup and Disaster Recovery

Windows NT`s data backup and recovery capabilities are also being upgraded with NT 5.0. Seagate Software, for example, is enhancing its NTBackup utility and is developing new disaster recovery software for NT 5.0.

In addition, unlike previous versions of NTBackup that only allowed data to be backed up to tape drives, NTBackup for 5.0 will take advantage of HighGround`s MRSM interface to expand backup options to a wide variety of storage media, including external hard-disk drives, Iomega Zip disks, CD drives and libraries, and tape devices.

"Backup traffic clearly has a measurable impact on network performance, and the biggest limitation of NTBackup today is that it`s not a system service," says Mike Ivanov, Seagate Software`s NT product manager.

The NTBackup utility for NT 5.0 does not provide for or manage job scheduling, and it also doesn`t permit unattended backup jobs to run in background on the system. And, NTBackup is intended to back up individual servers only, with no capabilities to back up client workstations or other NT servers.

To meet these additional requirements, Seagate will offer an NT 5.0 version of its Backup Exec 7.0 application package. Backup Exec includes extended system-service features, full scheduling capabilities, an intelligent autoloader management option, Windows `95 agents, DOS backup capabilities, and the ability to backup other NT servers and networks.

Defragger Due

To address storage capacity and performance problems caused by file fragmentation across disks, Executive Software is developing a defragmentation utility for NT 5.0. (The current version of NT does not include defragmentation.) Implemented via the MMC, the defragger operates on all Windows NT file systems--NTFS, FAT, and FAT32.

However, Andy Staffer, Executive Software`s director of research, admits that the built-in defragmentation utility is very basic. "Although NT 5.0 will have our Diskeeper engines and be fully capable at the disk level, it`s just a basic manual disk defragmenter that can handle only one disk at a time, with no scheduling or networking capabilities."

With the release of NT 5.0, however, Executive Software will also ship a full- function MMC snap-in version of Diskeeper that will include these capabilities.

Diskeeper transparently performs defragmentation in the background and includes network controls that allow administrators to schedule, monitor, and launch defragmentation across a network.

HSM Coming to NT

To address the spiraling management costs associated with managing both local and remote storage systems, NT 5.0 will include an HSM tool being developed by Eastman Software, previously the software business unit of Wang. Eastman`s Remote Storage Server will be available as an MMC snap-in integrated with MRSM.

HSM software automatically migrates files across multiple storage tiers to the most cost-effective storage devices, while providing administrators with a view of their overall storage environment. (For more information about HSM, see "HMS Makes Slow Inroads."

"Many NT users have multiple terabytes of data. Given the size of these databases and the associated performance issues and management problems, the ability to transparently offload data through HSM may be very attractive," says Jeff Drescher, Eastman Software`s product marketing manager.

NT 5.0`s Remote Storage Server is a stripped-down HSM application that will only manage data on the server in which it is installed. While it will allow users to migrate and recall files, it will be limited in terms of device support, capable of reading and writing to only one tape or optical storage device.

The list of individual devices supported will parallel the list of devices supported through MRSM.

"Although you can`t have multiple devices, and therefore won`t be able to set up a true hierarchy, the system will give users a feel for how HSM migration and recall works," Drescher explains. This may be an important point for users who are still struggling to understand how HSM systems are implemented and managed.

For users and developers already ready to step up to HSM, Eastman Software will also offer a higher-performance, full- functioning add-on HSM product in the same time frame as the initial release of NT 5.0. Code-named Phoenix, the software is targeted at enterprise users with multiple operating systems, as well as application developers through an API suite.

According to Drescher, "While many potential users of HSM are unable or unwilling to make the investment necessary to implement their own systems, they may be attracted to database systems that provide HSM as an integrated component."

NT 5.0 is already affecting the relationships between storage management ISVs because the commonality provided in NT 5.0 is leading to greater levels of cooperation and concurrent design.

For example, Seagate Software OEMs HighGround`s Storage Resource Manager and Media Mirror tape mirroring system. Seagate`s Ivanov also expects to OEM Eastman`s HSM software. "The MMC and MRSM interfaces of NT 5.0 give us the logical links needed for our applications to work together, and they provide an additional level of integration," says Ivanov.

Ultimately, greater levels of cooperative development will benefit end-users. Says Eastman Software`s Drescher, "Because all the storage components in 5.0 work together, there shouldn`t be any compatibility problems between applications. For example, we use the same data format as NTBackup, which means users will have the option to recover files written to a tape device either through HSM or NTBackup."

Windows NT 5.0 was originally due in 1997, and delays have inevitably led to speculation about possible problems with the delivery and integration of some its features, including storage management. However, according to Mark Wood, Microsoft`s product manager for Windows NT Server, the company still expects to deliver all of the storage management capabilities in the 5.0 release.

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Microsoft Removable Storage Manager is a storage device management standard based on a native set of tools that can be used by software developers and library/drive vendors.

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Veritas` Volume Manager is a disk administrator tool that will be built into the Windows NT 5.0 kernel.

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MRSM will allow applications to share secondary storage devices such as tape libraries and optical jukeboxes.

John Haystead is a freelance writer in Hollis, NH.

This article was originally published on March 01, 1998